NBA fans were in for a big surprise Monday afternoon when it was announced that Los Angeles Clippers star power forward Blake Griffin (along with two minor role-players) had been traded to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic and two draft picks, one of which is a first-round selection.
As is the case with many blockbuster deals, we won’t know for some time who won and who lost. Still, it can be worthwhile to analyze the results and predict which team will come out on top, no matter how soon.
My take? Despite getting the best player in the deal, the Pistons are on the losing side of this one.
It’s obvious that Griffin is head-and-shoulders above the other players involved, but the Pistons are taking on an enormous amount of risk with very little upside. He has a long injury history, and there’s no guarantee that he will stay healthy in the coming years. On top of that, he’s not the same player who dunked over a Kia Optima in the 2011 Dunk Contest; once among the league’s most explosive athletes, his abilities have waned over time.
In addition to his loss of athletic ability, Griffin’s bruising, low-post style of play hasn’t caught up with the modern NBA – he’s added a mediocre three-point shot to his repertoire only very recently – and he’s certainly not a good fit next to Pistons center Andre Drummond, one of the worst shooters in the league. With Detroit having traded Bradley and Harris to acquire him, the lineup is very thin and completely devoid of shooters.
The worst part of trading for Griffin is that they’re stuck with him through the 2020 season. His contract is enormous, and unless he somehow shakes off his injury woes, reverses the deleterious effects that age has brought and returns to superstar form, nobody will take his deal off the Pistons’ hands.
The contract, the risk that he doesn’t produce at a high level, the hemorrhaging of other talent … this trade may have made sense six or seven years ago, but it doesn’t really make much sense today. If things go perfectly, the upside is pretty limited: I don’t see how it does anything but maybe make the Pistons marginally better over the next few seasons and allow them to compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Things are looking better for the Clippers. It certainly hurts to lose Griffin; nobody’s expecting stretch-three Tobias Harris or gigantic center Boban Marjanovic to match his production. But Harris is a quality player, a good three-point shooter and somebody who could certainly re-sign with the team when his contract expires after next year. And Bradley, despite having a down year from a statistical perspective, is a fierce defender who matches up well with fellow Western Conference guards like Chris Paul and Steph Curry.
Unloading the contract also frees up space in the salary cap to sign talent down the road as they go through a semi-rebuild, and the two draft picks – one of which could fall in the lottery in this year’s draft – definitely helps.
I’m not a fan of the way the Clippers handled Griffin’s situation. When they wanted to re-sign him this past summer, they told him that he’d be a Clipper for life, that he could continue to build his legacy as the best player in franchise history. Trading him away – less than a year later and to a struggling team in a lesser conference – is a bit of a slap in the face. But everyone knows that the NBA, even more so than other sports leagues, is a business. The Clippers did what was best for the franchise, both today and moving forward.
I might be wrong, of course. Griffin could regain his explosiveness, and he and Drummond could wreak havoc in the East. Avery Bradley could leave this summer, followed by Tobias Harris next year, and the Clippers could be left with nothing. Outcomes like these are certainly in the realm of possibility.
But if I had to make the call today, I’m rolling with the Clippers on this one.
Contact Andrew Ziperski at ajzip ‘at’ stanford.edu.